Anishinaabe artist commissioned to paint mural with pan-Indigenous theme

The University of Ottawa is set to see its first Indigenous mural installed this week in the University Centre.

The mural is a joint initiative between the Indigenous Students Association and the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO), following the suggestion of the federation’s president, Hadi Wess, after the Black and Trans mural was painted in 2016.

“Hadi Wess had a lot to do with it. He was the one who brought the idea to the Indigenous Students Association, and then it went from there,” said Marissa Mills, a fourth-year communications student who serves as the university affairs executive for the Indigenous Students Association and the Indigenous students’ representative for the SFUO’s Board of Administration. “Just to go in line with representing Indigenous people and Indigenous students here and having more visibility.”

The Indigenous Students Association also organizes cultural and educational events like powwows, Metis jigging, Inuit throat singing, and the popular Indigenous Speakers Series.

After Wess proposed the mural in late 2017, the Indigenous Students Association began the selection process for an artist. After narrowing down the potential names, they decided to go with Anishinaabe artist Isaac Noganosh. Mills said the committee wanted to represent the Algonquin people upon whose land the U of O is built, and, as Mills says, the Algonquin people are Anishinaabe as well.

The mural has a pan-Indigenous theme, said Mills, although it does pay homage to the Algonquin people of Ottawa, and is informed by Noganosh’s Anishanaabe heritage.

“It’s not just focusing on one nation,” Mills said.  

“It will be a grandmother, or a mother holding the Earth,” Mills explained prior to the mural’s unveiling. “It’s just in line with connection to Mother Earth, and just that female figure holding earth and that connection to Mother Earth is all across Indigenous nations.”

The mural was painted on Friday, March 2, and had a soft-unveiling at the Awazibi Powwow hosted by the U of O last weekend, which also featured dancing, drumming, and vendors. It will soon be mounted in the University Centre where it will stand permanently.

Mills shared that the mural is happening because of Wess’ own advocacy for Indigenous issues, and because the U of O administration now has staff in charge of increasing visibility and services for Indigenous students. This has allowed the Indigenous Students Association to worry less about administrative issues and more about student events and, as Mills put it, allows them to “build more relationships.”

The mural’s function is two-fold: To let Indigenous students know they are represented on campus, and to raise awareness among non-Indigenous students that we study and live on Indigenous land.

“We definitely want Indigenous students to feel that they are represented, and especially Algonquin Indigenous students, because this is their territory. We can’t have this big space on this territory without that recognition or visibility,” said Mills. “This will be in a space where thousands of people will go by it everyday.”

Mills also pointed out that the mural was painted on wood so that it will outlast the University Centre, which will eventually be redone.

“We don’t want to see that art piece getting destroyed,” Mills said. “This will be like a living thing, so we want to preserve it as long as we can.”